Fear Factory’s last album, 2010’s Mechanize, reunited Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares, and hammered home with a collection of fierce, fast paced, classic Fear Factory songs. Bringing Gene Hoglan in to replace the formidable timekeeping skills of Raymond Herrera (currently playing in Arkaea, along with bassist Christian Olde Wolbers) was quite the coup, and the return of longtime collaborator Rhys Fulber (just make him a full-time member already!) cemented the album, in many reviewers’ estimation, as the best thing the band had done since Demanufacture, way back in ‘94 (which is when I first got into the band).
So now here’s the follow-up, The Industrialist, and like Demanufacture’s successor, Obsolete, it’s also a dark sci-fi concept album. Thankfully, it’s also more tuneful and layered than Obsolete, which I always thought was too colorless and dull (except for one track, “Shock,” which I still count in FF’s all-time top 10.) Bell and Dino are back, of course, and Fulber as well, but Hoglan is gone this time, replaced by… programmed drums, courtesy of Devolved‘s John Sankey. Now, you can all argue in the comments about whether a robotic clock is any match for an atomic one – I think it works just fine – but it’s certainly poetic that a band that’s built its aesthetic around heavily mechanized, laser-precise rhythms would finally enlist an actual machine to handle its percussion. Anyway, if Mechanize was as good, if not better than Demanufacture, will The Industrialist top it?
The title track opens with cinematic, cresting synths, which lead in to classic jackhammer drums and guitars, against a backdrop of foundry clangs and low-atmosphere drone flyover SFX. Far as openers go, it’s not as furious as “Mechanize,” but it’s also more melodic – just barely though. The chorus is anthemic but doesn’t quite feature Burton’s trademark clean melodies. For that, you need to advance to the next two tracks, two of the best on the album. Both lead single “Recharger” and follow-up “New Messiah” are all breakneck speed and machine-gun gallops, which contrast nicely with their epic, triumphant and memorable choruses (backed by Fulber’s subtly swelling strings).
Next, some tinkling piano and an ominous guitar melody kick off “God Eater” – shades of the excellent “Christploitation” off of Mechanize. Somewhat familiar, but then, about 1:30 in, something new – a cold, pulsing lurch, built largely from Fulber’s electronics and recalling Godflesh’s pulverizing, juggernaut assault. After 20 years, I think “God Eater” truly fulfills the promise of ‘industrial’ in Fear Factory’s sound, where the guitars are the ornamentation rather than the other way around. Dropping the tempo way down helps as well. Definitely a highlight of the album.
I’d love to hear more along these lines, but the next few tracks return to more traditional FF territory, with slightly uneven results. “Depraved Mind Murder” and later, “Disassemble,” are suitably pummeling in their verses, but both are saddled with ungainly choruses, whereas “Virus of Faith” and “Difference Engine” are much better all-around. “Difference Engine” is also notable for its prominent synth/electro elements, which remind me of something you’d hear off an old Thrill Kill Kult album. Kind of retro but it works.
In fact, many of these songs feature more consistent electronics and synths than any FF album I can recall. This is a welcome, and frankly, long-awaited evolution, however I am left wondering what Fear Factory would sound like if they truly set Fulber loose, pulling the band’s sound closer to the amazing atmospherics he’s achieved in Front Line Assembly over the years. I’m also still waiting for something to rival the epic, martial sci-fi opening and electro-spastic bridge of Demanufacture‘s “Zero Signal” – still my favorite FF track of all-time.
The Industrialist loses steam in its final moments, opting to close out with a pleasant-but-too-short instrumental coda to “Disassemble” called “Religion is Flawed Because Man is Flawed,” and then a 9-minute ambient soundscape called “Human Augmentation,” which is annoying because it’s not really a satisfying finale, and beyond that, it’s also not very interesting as an ambient piece (though it likely ties in with the end of the storyline). As far as album finales go, this is a major cop-out compared to Mechanize’s triumphant “Final Exit” or Demanufacture’s tragic “A Therapy for Pain.” Meh.
Although The Industrialist retains a lot of the fire and energy that made Mechanize such an exciting comeback, it doesn’t quite match up, song for song. Also, after that album reinstalled the band’s OS, I had hoped that The Industrialist would offer something of a revolution (pardon the pun). Instead, it’s just a good solid sequel.[Visit the band's website]